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From the June 1992 MediaWatch

Once Again, Reporters Have No Time for Balance

Page One


This month's U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro has become the latest excuse for reporters to abandon balance in favor of "saving the planet." Not only were free-market environmentalists and skeptical scientists ignored, so were any arguments that might make the U.N.'s proposed treaties seem less necessary. On May 8, ABC reporter Ned Potter, using only greenhouse promoter Michael Oppenheimer as a source, portrayed the U.S. as a polluting global outlaw: "The United States has been the biggest producer of greenhouse gases and the toughest holdout against legal commitments to control them."

The day the summit opened, June 3, CBS reporter Doug Tunnell editorialized: "Just imagine: the government of a major industrial country in the North that's responsible for about one- quarter of all the CO2 emissions in the world, and whose leader calls himself the Environment President. But this President forced the U.N. to water down a global clean-air accord, and refuses to sign another agreement to further protect endangered species." Other than EPA chief William Reilly mentioning the "financing mechanism" for six seconds, Tunnell ignored the contents of both treaties.

Boston Globe reporters Ross Gelbspan and Dianne Dumanoski tried to panic the Eastern seaboard with a May 31-June 2 series that began with a newscast from 2030: "Food riots erupt in Boston... Nature helps avert a water war between New York and Pennsylvania ...Garbage dumping begins in the Grand Canyon...Red Sox game smoked out in Chicago [by Saskatchewan prairie fires]...Scenarios like these are being forecast by more and more scientists. Unless skyrocketing rates of pollution and population growth are reduced soon, they warn, many biological systems needed to sustain humans will collapse within the lifetimes of today's children."

The Globe did devote a small box to critics. Wrote Gelbspan: "These voices are increasingly in the minority. And as evidence has accumulated, the tide of the debate has swung increasingly toward those who believe that the Earth's ability to withstand untrammeled human activity has reached the breaking point." Gelbspan quoted greenhouse promoter Stephen Schneider: "It is journalistically irresponsible to present both sides as if it were a question of balance...It is irresponsible to give equal time to a few people standing out in left field." Gelbspan ignored a Gallup poll of 400 climate experts from the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union. While 60 percent agreed global temperatures rose in the last century, only 19 percent believed that warming was induced by human activity. Nobody reported that.


Revolving Door

Dukakis at the White House. During an appearance on the May 8 C-SPAN Journalists' Roundtable, 29-year-old Newsweek White House reporter Clara Bingham reminisced about the Great Society: "It means ancient history, I'm afraid. It also means something I think about wistfully. I wish there was an administration now, or even within my adulthood, that cared so much." A few minutes later, host Brian Lamb offered a clue to Bingham's reverence for the Democrat by revealing her job during the last presidential campaign season: Tennessee Communications Director for Michael Dukakis for President. After joining Newsweek's Washington bureau in late 1989, in September 1991 she moved to the White House as the magazine's number two on that beat under Ann McDaniel.

Liberal Journalistic Activism. On May 16 thousands converged on Washington to demand more taxpayer money for cities. The Save Our Cities march was the brainchild of Osborn Elliott, Editor of Newsweek from 1961 to 1976 and Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism from 1979 to 1986. In The Boston Globe, columnist Tom Oliphant explained: "Last summer, Elliott brought his idea of a March on Washington to the executive committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors....Thanks to another titan of journalism's activist period (The Globe's retired Editor, Thomas Winship), Elliott was in touch with this year's conference President, Mayor Ray Flynn of Boston." During the rally, Elliott declared: "We hold accountable Republicans who have savaged our urban schools, our housing, our health care, our social services. We hold accountable Democrats who have collaborated in this butchery... We hold accountable those who waste our billions on a military with no enemy to fight. America, hear our cry."

Campaigning for Richards. In the just-released book Storming the State House: Running for Governor with Ann Richards and Dianne Feinstein, author Celia Morris described a "dog-and-pony show" caravan for Richards. Among those participating in the September 1990 road trip on behalf of the successful Democratic Texas candidate was Judith Davidson Moyers, who runs Public Affairs Television, the company behind virtually every Bill Moyers show on PBS. Morris wrote that Judith Moyers' "two-minute spiel" from the loudspeakers of a Winnebago, "was a classic piece of political persuasion." Currently, she and her husband hold the title of Co-Executive Editors of the ongoing Listening to America PBS series. She served as Executive Producer of January's Minimum Wages special on how jobs created during the 1980s don't pay enough.

Off to Espaņa. President Bush has nominated Richard Capen, former Publisher of the Miami Herald, to be U.S. Ambassador to Spain. After leaving the paper in 1989, Capen became Vice Chairman for business information and cable television properties for Knight-Ridder, owner of the Herald. During the Nixon Administration, Capen served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for legislative affairs.


Janet Cooke Award


On most issues, CNN serves as an example of balanced television news. But when it comes to the environment, CNN is a textbook example of advocacy journalism. For its one-sided month-long series of daily special reports on the eve of the Rio Earth Summit titled "The People Bomb," CNN earned the June Janet Cooke Award.

Ted Turner's environmental journalists have repeatedly and publicly rejected objectivity in environmental news, because balance doesn't spur people to action. In the Summer 1990 Gannett Center Journal, TBS Senior Producer Teya Ryan declared: "The 'balanced' report, in some cases, may no longer be the most effective, or even the most informative. Indeed, it can be debilitating. Can we afford to wait for our audience to come to its own conclusions? I think not."

Like its corporate colleagues at TBS, CNN ignored the basics of balanced journalism and demonstrated its contempt for the intellect of its audience. The first (and worst) report in "The People Bomb" series on the May 4 World News used only two on-air sources: discredited Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich and Carl Pope of the Sierra Club.

Anchor Susan Rook began the story: "Our month-long series on global overpopulation begins with CNN's Mark Walton's report on responsibility. When it comes to damaging our world, you may be surprised at who's to blame."

Walton continued: "Picture the developing world. Too many people on the edge of survival. Fouling the land, water, air. Compounding a crisis of poverty. It is the very face of overpopulation. But what about this? It's a middle-class suburb outside San Francisco called Pleasant Hill. And it really is a nice place to live: nice houses, nice cars, plenty to eat. The size of an average household is about 2.4 people. Certainly a place like this has nothing to do with overpopulation. Or does it?"

The rest of the piece, salted only with Pope and Ehrlich, theorized that industrialized nations and their conveniences are much more destructive than the Third World. Ehrlich explained: "Generally one can say that the birth of a baby in the United States is on the order of thirty times as big a disaster for things like global climate change, the ozone layer, acid precipitation, and so on, as a baby born in a poor family in Nepal, Bangladesh, Colombia, or whatever."

Even American environmental do-gooders were condemned. Walton faulted the family they spotlighted in California: "The Bakers are conscientious waste recyclers, with special bins for cans, bottles, and newspapers. Still, the very lifestyle that demands such materials traps them in a cycle of environmental destruction."

CNN didn't give viewers the treat of enunciating Ehrlich's real agenda. In his 1970 book Population, Resources, Environment, Ehrlich preached: "It has been concluded that mandatory population control laws, even those requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under our existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently compelling to endanger the society. A few consider the situation already serious enough to justify some forms of compulsion." Ehrlich also urged: "A massive campaign must be launched to restore a quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States."

CNN also failed to tell viewers about Ehrlich's dreadful record of predicting the future. In 1980, Ehrlich bet economist Julian Simon that five natural resources of Ehrlich's choosing would grow more scarce [i.e., expensive] by 1990. Ehrlich lost on all five counts.

When asked by MediaWatch about Simon's absence from the May 4 story, Stacy Jolna, the CNN producer in charge of the series, pointed out that Simon did appear on the morning talk show Crier & Co. on May 4. Simon told MediaWatch a CNN crew interviewed him for two and a half hours, but none of it appeared in the "People Bomb" series. Jolna knew Simon won the bet, but stressed that Simon was outnumbered: "The vast, overwhelming majority of voices in the field of population pretty much speak to the problems and there are very, very faint voices that think we ain't got a problem. We clearly have a problem....That all of this will fix itself at some point in the future is a silly way to operate."

In the April 27 Washington Times, Simon disagreed: "Even the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that our air and water have been getting cleaner rather than dirtier in the past few decades. Every agricultural economist knows that the world's population has been eating ever better since World War II. Every resource economist knows that all natural resources have been getting more available rather than more scarce, as shown by their falling prices over the decades and centuries. And every demographer knows that the death rate has been falling all over the world -- life expectancy has almost tripled in the rich countries in the past two centuries, and almost doubled in the poor countries in the past four decades."

Simon noted that the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences [not a "faint voice" among scientists] completely reversed its earlier view that population growth hurts economic development, but "this U-turn by the scientific consensus of experts on the subject has gone unacknowledged by the press."

"The People Bomb" placed little emphasis on actual population trends. As Ben Wattenberg, another expert excluded from the series, explained: "The keystone demographic datum is the 'Total Fertility Rate' (TFR). That represents the number of children a woman will bear in her fertile years." In modern countries, Wattenberg continued, a TFR of 2.1 yields a stable, non-growing population. "In 1960-65, according to UN data, the global TFR was 5.0. In 1990, according to the new Population Reference Bureau's 'Population Data Sheet,' the rate was 3.3 -- a 34 percent decrease in slightly more than one generation." Wattenberg also noted that the "less developed countries" reduced their TFR over the last 25 years a substantial 62 percent of the way down toward their replacement rate of 2.4.

Instead of addressing the statistical record, CNN focused on the role of Third World economies and cultures in population growth, citing, for example, the negative role of the Catholic Church in causing overpopulation. CNN lovingly promoted international birth control distribution. Throughout, CNN presented a grim picture of Earth's future while avoiding the inconvenience of counter- argument.

But CNN's Jolna called the series "a comprehensive, objective look...at global overpopulation." To Jolna, objectivity doesn't require presenting both sides: "If you've got 99 voices saying yes, we've got a problem, and it's a big problem, and you have one voice saying this is not a problem, how much weight do you give to that in terms of objective journalism? I don't think it's objective to take one out of 100 and put him up against one who represents the other 99, and say this is a balanced and fair report. I think you've got to go with the 99 percent, as we do as good journalists, and say this is what the overriding opinions are regarding this issue." In presenting only one side, and dismissing experts like Wattenberg and Simon, CNN isn't serving the public. If dramatic scenarios of gloom require drastic political action, reporters have to trust the people to make logical decisions, even after hearing both sides. Doing anything less says: the public be damned.



RATHER RICH. The May 25 Forbes listed Dan Rather as one of corporate America's most powerful people, paid $3.6 million a year. Forbes sounded an ironic note: "In his 1977 autobiography, The Camera Never Blinks: Adventures of a TV Journalist, Dan Rather criticized Barbara Walters' million-dollar-a-year salary as co-anchor of the ABC evening news and commented: 'In my own view, no one in this business is [worth a million], no matter what or how many shows they do, unless they find a cure for cancer on the side.'" Since Rather has yet to find a cure for cancer, Forbes rang true in their final assessment: "As a winner in the genetic lottery, Rather seems to have changed his mind about how high the rewards ought to be." Guess who enjoyed the "decade of greed"?

MIKHAIL'S MONEY. Compare NBC's coverage of Mikhail Gorbachev's money-making trip to the United States to their reports on Ronald Reagan's money-making trip to Japan two years earlier.

During his May 16 Nightly News "Final Thoughts" commentary, Garrick Utley heaped praise on Gorbachev. The anchor mused: "Whatever Gorbachev can get he certainly deserves....Here is a man who not only changed history, but he's going to save us a lot of money....The Bush Administration plans to cut defense spending $50 billion dollars over the next five years. Mikhail Gorbachev is the man who made that possible. So how much should a grateful American nation offer him in reward? In show business and sports, an agent's fee is 10 percent. That would mean $5 billion for Gorbachev. A bit high, you say? Okay, let's make it 1 percent, or even 1/10 of 1 percent. That would still be $50 million...Let's not be cynical, or begrudge him the measly couple of million dollars he takes with him. Those who gave it can afford it. It's the least America can do."

Now read what NBC commentator John Chancellor said about Reagan on the March 15, 1990 Nightly News: "Ask most Americans about Ronald Reagan's recent activities and they will tell you about the couple of million dollars he picked up for a quick trip to Japan...The Reagans' career after the White House has been characterized by big bucks...The country's mood has changed. The 1980s were noted for greed and avarice, but now we're in the 1990s and the waiter has arrived with the check."

RAINING ON PARADE. On May 14, CNN's Jonathan Mann reported on Parade magazine's survey on abortion, but only the results favoring abortion were mentioned. "A national magazine says people in the U.S. are overwhelmingly in favor of keeping abortion legal. Almost three-fourths of those polled by Parade magazine say abortion should remain legal. More than three- fourths of the respondents say outlawing abortions will not stop women from getting them."

CNN failed to note that Parade also found overwhelming public support for two "restrictions" in the Pennsylvania law currently before the Supreme Court. Parade reported 76 percent of the respondents said they believe husbands should be informed before their wives have an abortion; and "80 percent said that, when the woman is under 18, one or both parents should be notified before an abortion is performed."

FRYING THE FAT YEARS. Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Robert L. Bartley's new book about the economic prosperity of the 1980s, The Seven Fat Years, gave Time and Newsweek the opportunity to deny the obvious -- the Reagan years were a time of enormous economic growth.

Newsweek economics reporter Marc Levinson began his May 4 review: "The decade of Ronald Reagan's presidency is already receding into history as the second Gilded Age -- a time when, amid prosperity, many Americans became worse off." Levinson later offered this laughable assertion: "On average, the economy grew as fast under Jimmy Carter as under Ronald Reagan." Growth is easy with double-digit inflation, but that doesn't translate into prosperity. The most important things that grew during the Carter malaise years were lines at gas stations and unemployment offices.

In the May 24 issue of Time, Senior Writer John Greenwald complained that the book "glosses over the excesses and inequalities of the Reagan era." Spurning the supply-side recovery, he trotted out a very tired myth: "The rising tide of '80s style growth failed to lift all boats as advertised: the rich got bigger yachts, the middle class foundered, and many of the poor went under." In reality, all income groups saw their average family income grow during the 1980s.

SAVAGE SUPREME COURT. Los Angeles Times Supreme Court reporter David Savage won last November's Janet Cooke Award for his one- sided attack on Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Now, the attack has been lengthened into a book. In Turning Right, he serves up sugary praise for the liberals of the court. Thurgood Marshall "was, in the view of many law experts, the greatest American lawyer of the twentieth century." William Brennan was "one of the truly great justices of the twentieth century." And the author of Roe v. Wade, Harry Blackmun, "lived up to his pledge to be a protector of the little people whose cases came before the Court." Savage failed to note that unborn children miss Blackmun's "little people" category by a trimester.

As he regularly does in the Los Angeles Times, Savage suggested that conservative justices are against individual rights, and liberals fight off government power. While liberal justices have helped the federal government dramatically increase its control over people's property and economic decision-making, Savage warned: "Under the edicts of the Rehnquist Court, the Bill of Rights is shrinking in significance. The new court has seen its first duty as upholding the will of the majority and the rules of government, not the constitutional rights of individuals...How far will the court go in rolling back constitutional rights?"

GERGEN MISLABELED. David Gergen once served as President Reagan's Communications Director. Now, the U.S. News & World Report Editor -at-Large and MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour pundit is considered a "conservative." Think again. In the "America and the World 1991/92" issue of Foreign Affairs, all Gergen managed was tired liberal-media cliches. Gergen lashed out at Bush's energy policies, blaming Bush, not Saddam, for the Gulf War: "If the United States has a serious energy policy in place it would not be so threatened." Gergen wrote that Bush could "have convinced both the public and his own party that the country needed a sizeable increase in gasoline taxes in order to become more independent of foreign energy sources."

Turning to presidential politics, Gergen lumped candidate Pat Buchanan together with ex-Klan Wizard David Duke, warning: "Neither man will defeat the President, but they will give greater legitimacy to fears and prejudices seething below the surface." The only way to save America from a racist, isolationist future is more social spending: "Unless the nation embarks upon a comprehensive program of domestic renewal, the United States within a few years could become so deeply mired in its own troubles that its politics will turn even more embittered, xenophobic, and inward."

GORE'S GREEN GUIDE. Time Senior Writer Lance Morrow's May 14 review of Senator Al Gore's new book, Earth in the Balance, offered another example of how facts don't matter to Time when it comes to the environment. Morrow claimed "the book speaks with a certain passionate authenticity, a ring of the unfakable that is rare enough in the (usually ghostwritten) outpouring of politicians." Furthermore, the public "may be impressed by Gore's sustained intellectual concentration and mastery of his subject, the environment. Gore has studied it a while...Gore has produced a labor of statesmanship, evangelism, and scientific exposition."

Others would argue Gore went 0 for 3, chiefly producing a political tract that was thoroughly denounced by many in the scientific community. In one of several examples cited by Professor Julian Simon in a Washington Times review, Gore claimed that DDT "can be environmentally dangerous in tiny amounts." Simon noted that use of DDT in India resulted in the near elimination of malaria.

Similarly, Simon found that "Gore seems unaware that the solid scientific consensus is that there was no observable damage to humans living near Love Canal." Simon concluded: "The entire book is filled with this sort of environmental gossip, backed by no sources, and contradicted by solid data....He has been told in the past that his utterances on these subjects do not correspond with the facts. But he has chosen to ignore the scientific literature."

WHITE ON BLACKS. Time "Nation" Section Editor Jack White's May 11 report, "The Limits of Black Power," suggested that black leaders aren't truly "black" unless they're radical blacks, devoted to their race above all else. White suggested Justice Clarence Thomas isn't really black after ruling against a black official in Alabama in a voting rights case, Presley vs. Etowah County Commission: "No brother, no matter how right wing, they felt, could acquiesce in such a ruling." [Italics his.] Thomas simply ruled that current "voting rights" laws apply to voting, not the distribution of government powers, however unfair. To White, the race of the plaintiff mattered more than the actual text of the law, or the power of precedent.

White even huffed that liberal Democratic black leaders aren't radical enough. Take White's backhand at Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson: "Although his gospel-tinged oratory about the power of politics to uplift the poor remains as dynamic as ever, some of Jackson's strongest supporters complain that his priorities have changed and that he has become a tool of white business interests."

HORTON FOOLS COME TRUE. Every year the MediaWatch companion newsletter, Notable Quotables, publishes an April Fools issue, an effort to parody reporters by inventing the most outrageous quotes possible. In this year's April 1 edition, we made up the following Meet the Press question from NBC's Andrea Mitchell to Rep. Newt Gingrich: "Republicans say they will use the House Bank scandal as a wedge issue in November, hoping it will cause huge turnovers in Congress. Isn't this just Willie Horton with a checkbook, Congressman?"

A month later our quote came true. On the May 10 Meet the Press, Andrea Mitchell asked Senator Bill Bradley: "Senator, you told Tim that you thought the White House suggestion that the Great Society programs were to blame for what happened in Los Angeles was ludicrous. Was it also a racial code word -- a code word to appeal to racial fears? Is it the Willie Horton of the 1992 campaign?"

ABC'S SALINGER RESPONDS. After Prime Minister John Major's Conservative Party won a decisive majority in Britain's early April election, Notable Quotables ran some of the media's incorrect predictions. Among them, this from ABC Chief Foreign Correspondent Pierre Salinger on World News Tonight April 9, the day of the election:

"Major and the Conservatives seem to have failed to win a majority after 13 years because of the voter's perception that they did little to pull Britain out of the recession. Conservatives were heavily criticized for failing to invest enough funds in the national health service and the educational system. But voters were equally concerned about the large tax increase the Labor Party proposed with a top rate of 59 percent to fund those programs. If current trends hold up and the Conservatives run about 25 to 30 seats short, observers believe Prime Minister Major will resign tomorrow, leaving it up to Labor to form a government."

Responding from London, Salinger wrote: "I want to tell you you were right but you must also understand the conditions under which this broadcast was made. The polls close at 10:00 pm London time and I have to have a piece ready for World News Tonight by 11:00 pm. All the polls published at this period on BBC and ITN indicated what I said. It was not until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning that the situation turned around and it started to appear that the Conservatives might win. So while I accept the broadcast was a mistake, I don't really have full responsibility."


Page Five

Additional Attacks on the Human Race


Other CNN reports also bemoaned man's destruction of the planet. "Agenda Earth" featured essay-style segments from reporter Larry Woods: "'The earth does not argue,' observed Walt Whitman, 'does not scream.' Maybe it should. Especially the way we gorge the countryside with garbage. Society's use-and-toss mentality poses nagging problems." Woods also preached that "Man's vilification of the Earth has indeed marched down to the sea and beyond," and asked: "Can humanity confront its damaging handiwork while there's still time?"

"Hole in the Sky" took on ozone depletion. On May 26, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw again singled out the human race as a cancer on the planet: "This is a story about human folly. Mankind's attempt to engineer a better place to live, to improve upon nature with inventions such as refrigeration, foam packing, and electronics. But the man-made chemicals used in pursuit of the good life have put all life on earth in jeopardy. The chemicals have punched a hole in the sky." Shaw concluded: "Already, there's a moral to the story, and that is nature may not always be able to recover from the abuses of modern civilization."



Page FiveB

Hume vs. Houston Post


Vice President Dan Quayle's passing reference to Murphy Brown in a late May speech drew quick criticism from many reporters. On the May 22 Washington Week in Review, U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Steven Roberts called Quayle's speech "a very deliberate attempt to use these family values...as a wedge issue to drive divisions in this country along cultural lines, along social lines, and to some extent along racial lines."

But ABC White House correspondent Brit Hume told one reporter where to put it. On C-SPAN's June 5 Journalists' Roundtable, Hume criticized the Code Word Brigade, declaring: "I just think that the idea that the values issue is a code word is really an appalling commentary on how we've come to think in the media." Houston Post Washington Bureau Chief Kathy Kiely countered: "I do think values are a code word...they are a code word saying I want to exclude certain people. I think they're a code word for saying I'm against including homosexuals in government, I'm against maybe including women in certain positions."

Hume shot back: "But there is no evidence that that's what this President, who has campaigned hard on values is for or has done." Kiely responded: "Well, I'm not saying he's for that, but maybe's he's appealing to some people who are for that." Hume asked: "You're a reporter. Your job is to get at the facts. On what do you base that, other than guesswork?"

Later, Kiely continued: "There's a lot of racism that's dressed up to look like something different and I think it's our job to strip that clothing off and say what it is." Hume concluded: "I think that's true, but I think you have to actually do it, not just guess at it."



Page Six

Study Finds Liberal Bias

CPB Exposed

By law, the corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is required to insure balance in all "programming of a controversial nature," but CPB refused to undergo a study of its content. A study released by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) shows why: there is no balance on PBS.

CMPA studied every documentary on Washington PBS affiliate WETA from April 1987 to March 1988, and found a pronounced liberal slant. For example, 4 of 6 sources opposed America's participation in a nuclear arms race; 3 out of 5 sources argued that the environment must be protected before human needs; racial discrimination was described as a condition of American society 50 times without one dissenting opinion; 92 percent of sources on gender relations said society discriminates against women.

On health issues, 8 out of 9 sources gave the medical profession a vote of no confidence, arguing that medicine places its own interests above patient care. While the Cold War raged on, friends and allies of the U.S. were criticized more than four times as often as enemies or unfriendly nations. No wonder CPB wants no scrutiny.

When Senate Republicans asked for a debate on CPB funding, PBS-loving TV critics went wild. On May 21, Washington Post critic Tom Shales decried "the new coalitions of right-wingers joined together to wage an insane war against public television." He also called it a "virulent campaign" and a "perverse conspiracy." On May 12, Boston Globe critic Ed Siegel wrote that the Senate "could use someone like Joseph Welch to turn to PBS' current critics and repeat his answer to Joseph McCarthy's charges: 'Have you no shame'?"




On May 4, Bush spokesman Marlin Fitzwater declared "We believe that many of the root problems that have resulted in inner-city difficulties were started in the '60s and '70s, and they [social programs] failed." Fitzwater's remarks drew a quick response from liberals. Did the media give equal weight to both sides?

To determine the tone and tilt of the networks' reaction, Media-Watch analysts watched every evening news story in May (from ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and NBC Nightly News) on the impact on federal social programs. In 29 news stories, defenders of Great Society programs and advocates for more federal spending outnumbered critics, 79 to 22, or roughly four to one. Thirteen stories aired pro-Great Society sources with zero critics.

CBS had the worst soundbite imbalance, 33-8 (or 80 percent pro-government), followed by ABC (13-3, or 80 percent), NBC (14-4, or 77 percent), and CNN (19-7, or 73 percent). ABC had the most stories that aired liberals with no critics -- five. CBS aired three, and CNN and NBC aired two.

Only three ABC stories featured critics, and they were all President Bush, in two Brit Hume stories and one by Tom Foreman. On May 3, Foreman introduced Bush by declaring: "Some say the President has not recognized any social motive for the violence." Foreman ended by making the riots sound like a Clinton rally: "Increasingly, people are saying that all of the violence had very little to do with Rodney King. Instead, it was the desperate call of a community fighting for change."

BUDGET CUTS? ABC's most fervent defense of the Great Society came on May 4, with a trio of Great Society promotions. Peter Jennings declared: "It won't be easy for the Democrats to argue that it's simply a matter of spending the right amount of money." Then all three reporters said exactly that, despairing over supposed budget cuts without questioning the efficiency of past programs. Rebecca Chase, George Strait, and Bill Blaemore all claimed that Reagan budget cuts worsened the inner cities. Some claims were wrong: Strait bemoaned cuts in federal immunization spending, which increased from $32 million in 1980 to $186 million in 1990.

Some claims were simply recycled press release statistics from liberal interest groups. Take Rebecca Chase: "While the numbers on welfare increased, the value of the assistance fell by more than 30 percent. During the same time, other federal spending in the cities also dropped. Subsidized housing fell 82 percent. Job training, 63 percent. And programs to develop new business, down 40 percent." These numbers, straight from the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (also cited by Jack Smith on ABC's This Week), don't address which programs were cut, and why.

Had ABC done its own analysis instead of taking the easy, imbalanced way out, it may have even found that some of these programs have grown by 20 or 30 percent just in the last three years. Budget expert Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute contends that funding for public housing increased from $12.5 billion in 1989 to $15 billion in 1992, and that job training funds increased from $17.7 billion in 1989 to $23.2 billion in 1992.

Addressing the issues one at a time reveals that the government recognized failure in these programs and tried to remake them. ABC's borrowed numbers don't explain that in the 1980s, Republicans and Democrats alike moved from massive construction of public housing (which aided developers, not the poor) to direct housing assistance to the poor for already existing housing. Under Bush, rent certificate and voucher spending has skyrocketed 42 percent. The Comprehensive Education and Training Act, or CETA, was found ineffective and phased out by both parties and replaced with the Job Training Partnership Act.

But reporters stepped up to defend the whole menu of programs, effective or not. From Los Angeles on May 12, ABC reporter Beth Nissen mourned the CETA program: "Their bishop says many of those here who sarted out in poverty made it out because of federal anti-poverty programs that flourished in the 1960s." Nissen concluded: "Some of the federal anti-poverty programs were all their critics say -- expensive, troubled, mismanaged, even corrupt. But those who were helped out of poverty say those programs at least showed that the federal government cared. Those still in poverty, they say, are no longer sure who cares."

On May 22, anchor Connie Chung declared CBS would explore only one side: "This year, in the wake of the L.A. riots, the Bush Administration attacked these programs as failures. Tonight, people with a different perspective on Eye on America." Reporter Bob McNamara wistfully looked back: "A generation since America waged war on poverty, and dreamed of a Great Society." Promoting the impression that most of the Great Society was gone, McNamara asserted: "Twenty-five years later, although the programs are long gone, for many people, the Great Society is still making a difference." ABC's Tom Foreman had issued the same false statement a couple of weeks earlier: "In recent years as federal funding for social services has fallen, many have disappeared. Gone are programs for job training, health care, child care, and housing." McNamara and Foreman never specified which programs they were talking about.

THE MAYORS' MARCH. On May 16, the U.S. Conference of Mayors organized a "Save Our Cities" march. Liberal activists were given an uncontested forum, 17 to 0. All three broadcast networks used the same handout statistics. NBC's Henry Champ declared: "According to a Senate committee, federal money to the cities has been rapidly declining. In 1981, Washington gave $37 billion to urban projects. In 1993, the total will be $13 billion. Key programs, those aiding poor families and helping fight crime, drugs, and unemployment, have all suffered cutbacks."

None of the networks explained which programs were included in the numbers. A study by the National League of Cities (NLC), a lobbyist for more federal aid to the cities, claimed aid dropped from $47 billion in 1980 to $21 billion in 1992, a nearly 60 percent reduction. Some reporters used the 60 percent number, but they did not explain the programs the NLC selected. The NLC picked a number of programs that were defunded or decreased because both parties found them ineffective: revenue sharing, the Economic Development Administration, and Urban Development Action Grants (UDAG). UDAG was discontinued because it funded, among other things, the building of Hilton hotels.

OMITTED ARGUMENTS. If the networks had consulted Heritage Foundation expert Carl Horowitz instead of shilling for the mayors, he could have explained a different reality: federal aid to states and cities increased from $95 billion in 1981 to $152 billion in 1991. They failed to point out that Census Bureau figures show total municipal spending went up 26.3 percent in the 1980s in constant 1989 dollars.

The networks also left out an even more important statistic: public employee pay grew dramatically in the 1980s. In a study for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, Wendell Cox discovered that average public sector pay rose four times as fast as private sector pay, and that public employees now earn on average 10 percent more than their private counterparts. Municipal government employees received an estimated $5.05 for each $1 increase for private sector employees. Public employee pay is especially important since personnel makes up 60 percent of state and local operating expenditures. Reporters presented the mayors' march as a plea for the poor, and not a plea for higher pay for city bureaucrats.

Instead of detailed analysis of federal aid, reporters settled for quick and easy cheap shots. While overall spending on the poor increased in the 1980s in real terms, reporters, like NBC's Lisa Myers on May 7, simply pulled out the long knives: "It is often said that Ronald Reagan's big budget cuts declared war on the poor. The most that can be said of Georg Bush is that he declared a cease-fire." Reporters may never declare a cease-fire in their war against the Reagan years.



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